The Haneda trick

Haneda Airport has been all over the Japanese news lately, so it’s about time that I write some more about it.

The new international terminal opened today, and long-haul flights will commence at the end of this month. The catch is that they will all have to operate between 10 PM and 7 AM, the hours when Narita Airport is closed. Only flights to certain cities in East Asia are allowed to operate during the day. This is commonly interpreted as a compromise to keep Narita traffic up, but there is a more subtle and less reported effect of the schedule: it helps Japanese airlines and screws over foreign airlines. Here’s why.

Within this rule, the most attractive schedule from a passenger’s perspective is to leave Haneda between 10 PM and 1 AM, and to arrive at Haneda as close to 7 AM as possible. If you leave Haneda in the early morning hours, you either have to get there on the last train the evening before (requiring a wait) or take a car or taxi in the wee hours of the night (expensive). If you land at Haneda after 10 PM, you have to hustle to get ground transportation to your final destination in Tokyo.

It’s easy for JAL and ANA to offer such schedules because they have operations at Haneda during the day. If a JAL plane comes in from Europe at 6 AM, it can be cleaned, refueled and sent on a round trip to Seoul, Beijing or Shanghai, and still get back in plenty of time to take people overseas at 10 PM. On the other hand, if a foreign plane flies in at 6 AM, they have to sit at Haneda for fifteen hours until they can fly again. The best compromise that non-Japanese carriers can come up with is to have their flights arrive at Haneda around 10:30 and depart around 6:30 — meaning that most Tokyoites will have to get up very early and catch the first train of the morning, then catch the last train home after their trip. A couple have managed to put together flight schedules that leave Haneda around midnight, but this is not always realistic because of time zones and the longer turn-around times for long-haul aircraft.

JAL and ANA will run their first long-haul flights on October 31, but American, Delta, Air Canada and British Airways won’t start flights until next year, and might even decide that Haneda isn’t worth it unless the hours are relaxed further. The only non-Asian carrier that will serve Haneda this year is Hawaiian Airlines, who will bring their daily flight into Haneda right at 10 pm, then turn it around back to Honolulu after midnight. They can get away with this because Honolulu is only a few hours ahead of Tokyo (minus a day), so the midnight departure translates to a lunch arrival, and the 10 pm return arrival translates into an afternoon return departure — both good timings for vacationers. On the other hand, American’s proposed HND-JFK flight is horribly timed, leaving HND around 6 AM and arriving at JFK around the same time, virtually guaranteeing that every passenger on it will be jet-lagged out of their mind for a week. But they don’t have much of a choice.

The new division of duties between the airports won’t be sustainable, and I believe Kasumigaseki will eventually open up HND to flights around the clock — in which case Tokyo’s airport situation will eventually look like London’s. Haneda will be the equivalent of Heathrow: close-in, popular, charging a premium, and a key intercontinental hub. Narita will be the equivalent of Gatwick or Stansted: a haven for cheap flights to holiday destinations, mainly serving Tokyo locals.

20 thoughts on “The Haneda trick”

  1. To be honest, now that narita has the 35min. to Nippori and 40ish minutes to Haneda by train, I’m not sure if many European carriers will change to Haneda.

  2. My understanding is that Haneda will be better for people living in the South West of Tokyo + Yokohama.
    By the way, Air France is starting their flights to Paris after the 31st of Oct., leaving Haneda at 01:30 and arriving at 06:20 in Paris: the best for businessmen actually, because you can get a diner with a client in Tokyo, take your flight, and be there for the beginning of the day in Paris.
    This was impossible with Narita because of the 22h00 limitation.

  3. I always had the impression Haneda was like Tokyo’s LaGuardia, right down to its transportation accessibility issues. On another note, I do not see why would foreign lines not emulate the same kind of East Asia operations as JAL and ANA at Haneda for a competitive, sustainable (and lucrative) venture.

  4. ” If you land at Haneda after 10 PM, you have to hustle to get ground transportation to your final destination in Tokyo.”

    No you won’t ! trains run till way past 12 on most lines in Tokyo

  5. Hi Joe,

    I disagree with your conclusion about what Haneda and Narita’s role will become because I think the most significant consumers by number are Kanto residents, Japanese and otherwise. With all the new trains in operation, Haneda is only more convenient for south and west Tokyo plus Kanagawa, while Narita better serves customers from all of Northeast Tokyo, Saitama as well as Chiba thanks to that fast train out of Nippori coupled with the Narita Express.

    Japan-dwellers travel abroad in vast numbers, and Japan gets relatively few non-resident tourists in proportion to its population. I see Haneda and Narita’s increased convenience as expanding the market a bit in addition to splitting it nearly in two. It’s a lot easier to fly to Korea for a weekend when you can choose between Haneda and Narita at half an hour to an hour each, which applies to anywhere in central Tokyo. They will have to compete with each other for my money, and this is great news for me and for Japan.

    I’ll be flying to the US using a Haneda-Beijing route next month, because it’s both cheaper and more convenient than the flights from Narita.

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  7. I honestly just can’t see the appeal of Haneda. I live in central Tokyo (Ueno) and both time-wise and hassle-wise, Narita is the better bet. Toss on the added 1-man premium they’re talking about for international flights, and the only time I see using Haneda as practical is flights to Fukuoka or Sapporo.

  8. Ueno is central tokyo? More like northeast.

    For anyone living in South or western tokyo (most people) haneda is a blessing.
    I tried once a Haneda flight from Shanghai and its a godsend. I got home 30 minutes after landing.

    Joe’s spot on, Narita will fade into low cost status. good riddance.

  9. I keep hearing Shinagawa talked up as a beneficiary of more international flights coming into Haneda. I’ve always found it something of a dead zone (translation: hardly any decent bars) and I can’t see it changing much. Certainly, there ought to be more connecting traffic – especially now it’s a shinkansen stop – but it’s difficult to see a substantial knock-on effect. That didn’t happen before when Haneda was the only international destination, although the absolute numbers back then were obviously smaller.

    I’m sure international flight crews will appreciate coming into Haneda. A lot of airlines gave up sending them to central Tokyo hotels and kept them near Narita. Even if the crews stay near Haneda, they’ll still be within easier striking distance of the city centre and will have more options for getting back.

  10. “A lot of airlines gave up sending them to central Tokyo hotels and kept them near Narita. ”

    There’s an apartment owned by Aeroflot that locates right in the middle of water melon fields in Tomisato,Chiba.Presumably the legacy of Soviet years.

  11. Unless you are in Nippori, Ueno or Chibaraki, Haneda is closer to you (in terms of travel time) than Narita is. Full stop.

    @Greg: Foreign airlines generally can’t do that because international airline routes are still doled out by bilateral treaties in Asian countries, which limit the number of flights that each country’s airlines can offer between the two. The hubs that Delta and United operate at Narita are a legacy of the immediate postwar era when Pan Am and Northwest were the only way to fly out of Japan, and that sort of thing is basically impossible under the bilateral agreements Japan currently has with most countries.

    @NH: Pure competition between Haneda and Narita for the same traffic is a dumb idea because it makes both airports weaker as hubs, and unnecessarily splits the resources of JAL and ANA. There ought to be a functional distinction between the two, and Haneda, being significantly closer to the business centers in Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama, and being able to offer 24-hour operations, is much better positioned to control the premium business traffic.

  12. *They’ve put a new landfill runway in at Haneda to make it a more international airport.
    – Umm… won’t that harm Narita’s business?
    *No, it will be a ‘two-airport-hub’?
    – Aren’t they an hour and a half apart, needing over two hours for the transfer?
    *But we will make a new express to save thirty minutes, at the usual express premium of 2000yen.
    – Isn’t the real problem the fact that it is more convenient to fly first to Seoul, or elsewhere, to transfer to just about anywhere else? Or isn’t the issue your landing fees are more than double the rest of Asia? Or maybe you should not have the furthest airport from a city centre, and should have built up Haneda from the start. Never mind you can fly 24hrs from Haneda, and not Narita, and you are two-decades too late compared to the competition.
    *Foreign people cannot understand Japanese culture.
    – Which part, Amakudari and kickbacks, or the fact that you expect foreign travelers to be as ox-like as Japanese?

  13. *They’ve put a new landfill runway in at Haneda to make it a more international airport. – Umm… won’t that harm Narita’s business?

    Possibly, but Haneda’s landing fees are correspondingly higher than Narita’s, and many, many more destinations are currently served from Narita than are even planned from Haneda at this point.

  14. Also, in terms of convenience, Haneda’s new international terminal is 14 minutes from either Hamamatsucho (monorail airport rapid) or 12 minutes from Shinagawa (Keikyu airport special rapid), and the monorail platform is on the departure level. Narita, on the other hand, is 58 minutes from Shinagawa (Asakusa Line, transfer to Keisei Skyliner).

    From Nihombashi/Tokyo, Haneda is 30 minutes, Narita is ~47 minutes.

    (all times are from railway company websites and are fastest, not average, times)

  15. For me the addition of this flight from Haneda arriving in Paris at 6am is really convenient. Only last week I had to waste two full days solely on travel because I had to use Narita and the flights only depart for Europe in the morning.

    The new line from Nippori is more convenient – how they can call Narita Express an “express” is beyond a joke. Haneda will become my de facto airport of choice for most if not all of my business flights.

    The reform of the airports has the potential to make Japan a lot better. This mayor of Chiba has now had the cold water of competition thrown in his face and they seem to be waking up to how terribly poor service to Narita was. It can only get better if Haneda is allowed to develop to its full potential.

    Such change will be inevitable if foreign carriers shun the airport due to the inconveniences you mentioned in your informative post.

  16. Haneda’s international service started this past Sunday, for those who missed it.

    Of particular interest to me, since I will likely be in Taipei a year from now, is that there will be daily service between Haneda and Taipei’s similarly recently-restarted-international-service urban Songshan airport. It seems there will be 8 round trip Haneda-Songshan flights daily, which is practically a train schedule! Hopefully prices will be brought down significantly.

  17. Japan Times has crappy reporters and editors as usual…

    1) “Haneda’s shift took place at a dawn” – First of all, hire a proofreader. Secondly, the first flights took off around midnight.

    2) The first flights were supposed to leave just after midnight on Sunday, but they actually departed right before midnight on Saturday.

  18. “The first flights were supposed to leave just after midnight on Sunday, but they actually departed right before midnight on Saturday.”

    It seems that didn’t go down to well in some quarters. The changes were all down to JAL and ANA jostling to be first because they thought there was important PR mileage to be had with all the press coverage. Instead, some see it as a prime example of both companies putting their customers second. ANA suddenly bumped up their departure time and, in response, JAL staff ran around the terminal screaming for their passengers to go to the departure lounge.

    I see the Asahi says Haneda spells bad news for international flights at some regional airports. I had no idea that Akita subsidized a Korean Air flight to the tune of 30,000 yen per student who uses it on a trip (plus 11,000 for their passports). They are paying 140 million yen a year to keep the flight.

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